The move by client EDF follows complaints from Unite and a campaign by rank-and-file electricians who have threatened widespread demonstrations.
Hinkley client EDF and the MEH Alliance of Balfour Beatty and NG Bailey has been looking to introduce training courses for ‘Electrical Support Operatives’.
The courses introduced by the Engineering Construction Training Board (ECITB) would run alongside existing apprenticeships and qualify most candidates to Level 2 allowing them to eventually support qualified electricians to install cable trays and ladders and help pull cables.
Unite said that would undermine the role of the electrician and raised the issue with EDF who have postponed the training plan “until the problem has been resolved.”
The last attempt to change pay grades in the sector was the ‘BESNA’ reforms in 2011 which were abandoned by employers following a concerted protest campaign by workers.
Unite General Secretary Len McCluskey said “The undermining of the role of the electrician has been attempted for more than 30 years, most recently in 2011/12 when eight of the major mechanical and electrical construction companies promoted the use of non-electrical personnel to carry out skilled electrical tasks under the so called BESNA agreement.
“Unite defeated the BESNA agreement then and we will defeat this latest attempt to deskill electricians.
“Our message to the industry is clear. Unite and its electrical membership will oppose any and all efforts to weaken the skill set of the trade which will undermine the industry by introducing non-skilled operatives.
“Any deskilling of electricians would result in a race to the bottom and would be highly damaging to industrial relations across the sector.”
An EDF spokesperson said: “Productive talks are now taking place to reach agreement on the curriculum of the new training courses.”
The ECITB said: ‘The ECITB was asked by EDF and the MEH Alliance to develop training pathways that create progressive career opportunities in line with the principles agreed within the HPC collective M&E agreement, the ECSA, for new entrants coming onto Hinkley Point C.
“This work commenced in January 2020 and has involved consultation with a wide range of industry stakeholders.
“Employer led, the ECITB’s remit is to support the delivery of skills and training in the engineering construction industry.
“This includes supporting new entrants into the industry, so that employers have the skills they need, individuals acquire relevant industry skills to advance their careers and we collectively build capacity for future industry projects.
“The ECITB does not comment on industrial relations matters, which are a matter for the employers and union representatives.”